Photo courtesy USA TODAY Sports
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins' red zone offense took plenty of snaps Saturday night -- and finally produced a touchdown.
The first team scored its only TD just before halftime on its 17th play inside the Tampa Bay 20, but the Buccaneers scored with 1:03 left in the game to win 17-16.
Miami's starters netted 180 yards playing the entire first half, their most extensive outing in four exhibition games. Ryan Tannehill went 17 for 27 for 150 yards and a 4-yard score to Brandon Gibson with 10 seconds left in the half for a 13-10 lead.
"We did some good things," Tannehill said. "We moved the ball well. But we didn't finish when we got into the red zone. When you get that close after moving all the way down the field, you really want to score touchdowns."
Gibson and Brian Hartline dropped potential scoring passes, and twice Miami settled for short field goals.
"We have to catch the ball more consistently, no doubt about it," coach Joe Philbin said. "I can't tell you the rhythm offensively was great tonight. It didn't feel that way to me. It's got to get better."
Miami fell to 1-3 with one exhibition game left. The Buccaneers improved to 1-2, but their first-team offense sputtered again.
Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman went 6 for 16 for 59 yards, took five sacks and lost a fumble while playing 2 quarters. The turnover came at midfield with 1:29 left in the first half and led to Miami's lone touchdown.
"It was an uphill battle," Freeman said. "We really weren't in sync like we'd like to be. There were a number of things that we have to get cleaned up."
Freeman's performance was part of the problem, coach Greg Schiano said.
"The quarterback play was not what I wanted it to be," he said. "The good thing is that we have two weeks before the season starts, because we're going to need every day of it."
Tampa Bay had an edge in special teams, with backup linebacker Adam Hayward making two fumble recoveries on the punt coverage team, which led to the Bucs' first 10 points. One turnover came after the kick hit blocker Nolan Carroll, and returner Marcus Thigpen lost a fumble.
Thigpen later had a 38-yard punt return.
The takeaways pleased former Dolphins head coach Dave Wannstedt, who is in his first year as Tampa Bay's special teams coach.
"With the exception of that one return, I thought our special teams played outstanding," Schiano said.
Miami began the game with a 17-play drive that took 8 minutes -- but settled for a field goal. Tannehill completed six consecutive passes during the possession, including one on fourth down.
"I'm moving in the right direction," the second-year quarterback said. "There are still some plays I should be better at, but I'm learning and try not to make the same mistake twice."
It was another slow start by the Bucs' defense, which allowed the Patriots' Tom Brady to go 8 for 8 on a game-opening touchdown drive last week.
Lamar Miller had the edge on Daniel Thomas in their competition for the job as Miami's No. 1 running back. Miller had eight carries for 35 yards, including a 20-yard run on his first carry against the Bucs' stout run defense. Thomas carried seven times for 3 yards.
"Lamar appeared to run the ball well," Philbin said. "Daniel never really got untracked in the running game, it seemed, but I can't tell you it was all his fault."
Two-time Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph, who missed Tampa Bay's entire 2012 season because of a right knee injury, played for the first time this preseason but couldn't give the ground game much of a boost. Brian Leonard led Tampa Bay with 38 yards rushing and a score in 10 carries.
The Bucs' Mike Williams was targeted seven times but caught only two passes. David Douglas scored for the second week in a row when he caught a 12-yard pass from Mike Glennon with 1:03 left.
Tampa Bay backup defensive end Trevor Scott had three sacks.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis, who began practicing with the Bucs' first defensive unit this week, sat out his third exhibition game in a row as he comes back from knee surgery. Left guard Carl Nicks (infected left big toe) and running back Doug Martin (head) were also sidelined.
Veteran Rian Lindell, signed this week by the Bucs because Lawrence Tynes has a toe infection, kicked a 38-yard field goal. Rookie Caleb Sturgis, who has clinched a job with the Dolphins, went 3 for 3 on field goals.